The Forward 50

John Zorn

John Zorn

Culture

John Zorn, one of the most interesting forces in Jewish music today, is something of a legend as a saxophonist and composer in New York City’s downtown avant-garde music scene. This year saw Zorn, 58, present his expansive “Masada” collection of compositions with 12 different ensembles at Carnegie Hall — a few steps removed from his usual Alphabet City venue, The Stone. While Zorn is a performer and composer with a prolific output of his own, it’s as a collaborator and producer that he’s had his biggest impact on Jewish music. Zorn’s Tzadik record label — the name is Hebrew for a “righteous person” — and its Radical Jewish Culture series has been a low-key but persistent force behind some of the most compelling Jewish music created in the United States over the last 15 years.

Because of its non-commercial orientation and Zorn’s artistic vision, the label has attracted an array of musicians who favor the artistically engaging over the commercially lucrative. The result is a body of work that ranges from free jazz to Yiddish song, and from punk rock to folk. While some have bemoaned the lack of a successful business model for Jewish music after the demise of JDub Records, Zorn continues to show how inventive works can be produced, even if there isn’t much money in it.

Plus One

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